Beginning this month, millions of children across the country have been heading back to school— but not all will take this traditional route. Hundreds of thousands of families have chosen homeschooling instead.

As a former teacher, (if you can ever really be a "former" teacher), I've never been a big fan of this slowly growing trend. I've always believed that school is far more than just academic learning. The socialization and interpersonal skills gained are critically important and add to future success as much as high grades. And of course, there are the co-curricular opportunities.

But in the last year, I've slowly come to see the value of homeschooling for some families, and why several parents I respect have made this difficult choice.

Homeschooling isn't new in the United States. It's been around since 1904. It didn't start to gain notoriety until the 60s when parents were concerned "God was being taken out of the classroom" and took their kids out of the public schools in reaction.

At that time, the majority of Americans looked at homeschooling as an extreme measure taken by parents with extreme beliefs.

Some feel the face of homeschooling changed 1979 when several families appeared on the number one daytime talker at the time, The Phil Donahue Show. For the first time, many parents saw homeschooling in a different light. The families featured where not religious fanatics, but concerned thoughtful parents looking for ways to provide their children with personalized creative learning experiences, rich with field trips and hands-on learning.

Suddenly, homeschooling became more acceptable and even a bit prestigious, but it wasn't until the mid-90s when the estimated number of homeschoolers grew from 2,000 to about 750,000 with slow growth taking place ever since.

While it's difficult to get exact numbers because these children aren't in a "system", there are approximately 2.2 million homeschoolers in America now.

Why did the family I know decide to take a leap of faith and commit to homeschooling for a year?

Dad explained he had originally planned for his girls to go to a private school until he received a letter late in the year informing him tuition assistance was cut. He and his wife couldn't afford to keep the girls there and lost the opportunity to apply to some of the better public and charter schools.

Living in Philadelphia and watching education funding and programs continually cut and their neighborhood school becoming more dangerous, he and his wife felt it was their best option.

While they would prefer for the girls to attend a brick and mortar school, they've made a major commitment to provide the best at-home learning experiences possible. Mom, who is self-employed, will cut back on her work schedule to be at home and oversee the daily "classroom" work. In order to make sure the girls stay on target academically, they've enrolled them in a certified Pennsylvania cyber school. That means the girls will be required to complete grade level competencies and participate in the 990 hours of "school time" mandated for Pennsylvania secondary students.

They've also made connections to other local homeschooling groups so the girls will be able to participate in a wide range of group activities. Because of state laws, the girls are also eligible to participate in certain Philadelphia School District activities.

Some of the money the parents saved for tuition will pay for family trips across the Country. The girls will have a big say in where they go, what they do, and what they want to learn on these adventures.

While all of this sounds exciting, it's also frightening. It's also time consuming. It's also expensive in lost income. Both this mom and dad are educated, creative, and completely committed to their family. If any family can make a success of home schooling, I'm confident these parents can. I'll keep you posted!

If you're considering homeschooling, take an honest appraisal of your children's needs. Home schooling may be an option for kids who are:

  • advanced academically
  • struggling academically
  • have chronic physical or emotional health issues
  • are victims of bullying
  • unhappy with current school choices

Next, take an honest appraisal of your own strengths and weaknesses. Do you have the time, patience, temperament, discipline, and desire to commit to this major undertaking?

If you think homeschooling might be a good fit for your child and your family, check out your state requirements:

If still interested, your very first homework assignment is to research the different homeschooling groups in your area, curricula, and enrichment activities available.

If you already are a homeschooling parent, I invite you to share some of your successes, challenges, experiences, and advice for those who are considering this choice.